You have received an invitation to interview for a new job: congratulations!
If you’re going to impress at interview, you need to prepare thoroughly. This page sets out what to do to prepare, some pointers about how to behave and react in the interview and what you might expect at an interview.
The most important thing to remember about any interview is that it is a two-way process. It is as much about you finding out whether you want to work for the company as them finding out whether they want you. This means it is important to present yourself as you really are, not pretend to be something you’re not.
Preparing For The Interview
Your preparation before the day of the interview needs to be on two main fronts:
Research the Organisation
Find out as much as you can about the company.
Look at their website, and any information that they have sent you, and see if you can find their mission, objectives, any value statements and the like. It’s helpful to be familiar with the organisation’s guiding principles. Also try to find out how the job that you have applied for fits into the organisation.
Make a list of the questions about the organisation, ideally around work, such as the team you will be working with, or the work that you will be doing on a daily basis. It’s OK to ask about the on-site gym and the holiday allowance, but don’t sound as if you’re only interested in getting away from work!
It’s probably not a great idea to ask whether you’ll be able to work part-time at this stage. Either you should already have done that before applying, or you need to be prepared to work the hours stated.
You need to sit down with the person specification and your application, and develop some new examples of how you meet at least a few of the requirements. It is fine to talk about the examples on your application form or CV/covering letter, but it’s useful to have a few new ones too. Describe the situation in one sentence or less, and focus on your actions, the results that you achieved, and how you knew you were successful.
It’s also helpful to prepare answers for some of the standard icebreakers, such as ‘Tell me a bit about your current job’, or ‘Tell me why you’ve applied for this job’. Your answers should focus on your skills, and how you can use them in the new job, again based around the person specification. Don’t learn them off by heart, but have a good idea of what you want to say.
Tests and Presentations
Some interviews require you to make a short presentation, or to take a test. The details will always be included in the letter inviting you to interview, so you’ll have time to prepare. If you’ve been asked to make a presentation, don’t assume that there will be PowerPoint, or that you’ll be standing in front of a group.
You may be invited to bring a handout. It’s worth spending a bit of time making a one-page handout that fully summarises your presentation, whether it’s a mind-map, a picture of some sort, or your five key take-home messages. Have a look at our page: Creative Thinking for some ideas. Think about what you want them to remember from your presentation, and make sure that’s clear from your handout.
Attending the Interview
Some General Dos and Don’ts
- Arrive in good time. The interview panel may be interviewing a lot of candidates so do not keep them waiting.
- Dress appropriately. Some organisations, especially technology companies, have a very casual dress code but, for most, a suit will be appropriate interview wear. Remember that you are being judged on the appearance that you present.
- Act appropriately, which usually means following the interviewer’s lead. If you are offered a hand to shake, then shake it, but don’t offer your own hand if nobody else seems interested.
- Engage with the interviewers. Smile, make eye contact, and build rapport.
- Answer the questions that are asked, using relevant examples where at all possible.
- Be afraid to blow your own trumpet a bit. After all, nobody else is going to blow it for you; however do not lie or exaggerate. If you want the job, be enthusiastic and positive.
- Be over-familiar or share too much information. For example, the interviewers don’t want to know how you’re going to manage your childcare.
What to Expect in the Interview
How Many Interviewers?
The letter inviting you to interview will probably state who will be interviewing you. It’s often three to five people, because that removes any individual bias, so don’t be surprised to walk in and find a roomful of people. One will probably take the lead, and explain who will be asking questions as well as the role of the others.
When you’re asked a question, reply to the person who asked the question. The others may intervene, either during or after your answer, in which case you’ll also need to reply to the intervention. Again, reply to that person and not to the group generally.
If you’ve been invited to give a presentation, you will probably be asked to give it immediately after introductions. Our Presentation Skills section has lots of advice and further reading about preparing for and giving effective presentations and you may find our page Presentations in Interviews particularly useful.
If there’s a time limit for your presentation then keep to it. If you can’t see the clock in the room, then put your watch on the table in front of you, to make sure that you’re keeping to time. If you’re running short, cut your presentation and move to the conclusion.
Types of Questions
Interviewers often like to start with an easy ‘ice-breaker’ question, such as ‘What do you do in your current job?” or “Tell us why you applied for this job?” If you’ve done your preparation, you’ll be ready for this.
Modern interviews tend to be ‘competence-based’, which means that they focus on your skills, and how you can demonstrate them.
So questions will often be in the form of:
- Tell us about the time when you…
- Can you give us an example of a time when you…
- From your previous experience, how would you deal with a situation like …
If you don’t have much work experience, don’t worry. Be prepared to say “Well, I haven’t actually had to do that yet, but this is what I would do in the situation”. If you’re being interviewed for a job where you don’t have much experience in the field, the interviewers will usually try to help by giving you hypothetical questions and asking you how you would approach a problem. They know you don’t have much experience, but they’re trying to give you a chance to show that you can do the job.
The interviewers are not trying to trip you up as a general rule so, if you get a question that you don’t understand, just say so and ask them to expand a bit.
There are still interviewers around who believe in the benefits of asking ‘off the wall’ questions like ‘If you were a car, what type would you be?’ and ‘What are your best and worst traits?’ Just humour them! Have a fairly bland and generic reply prepared such as ‘Well, I’m not sure what type of animal/car/bird/whatever I’d be, but I do know that I set myself high standards and am not happy unless I’m working hard!”
At The End
At the end of the interview, you will probably be asked if you have any questions.
It is usually a good idea to ask a few questions about the organisation or role at this point. However, if you really don’t have any questions, perhaps because you spoke to someone from the organisation before the interview and they have answered all your questions, then it’s fine to say so. Do explain that it’s because you spoke to [name] and they were able to answer all your questions ahead of time.
It’s also acceptable to ask when the organisation will expect to let people know the outcome of their application.
It may also be worth asking if there is anything that they feel that you didn’t address as well as you could have done, or that wasn’t entirely clear. It gives you a second chance if you were a bit nervous and didn’t answer as well as you could have done early on.
Before you leave, thank the interview panel for the chance to attend the interview and say that it was nice to meet them. Smile, gain eye contact and shake hands if appropriate. Always leave a good final impression.
You will find out in due course if you were successful. If you were not then it can be a good idea to ask for feedback. You may gain some useful tips and advice to improve your chances at your next interview.